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Yemen sides begin UN-brokered talks on prisoner swap

Yemen's warring sides have begun talks aimed at implementing a United Nations-brokered deal on a prisoner exchange, the UN says.

The discussions between Yemen's internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels are taking place in Switzerland.

They are co-chaired by UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Grundberg urged both parties to "engage in serious and forthcoming discussions to agree on releasing as many detainees as possible," according to a UN statement.

"I urge the parties to fulfil the commitments they made, not just to each other, but also to the thousands of Yemeni families who have been waiting to be reunited with their loved ones for far too long," he said.

Yemen's conflict erupted in 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and much of the country's north.

That prompted a Saudi-led coalition to intervene months later in a bid to restore the internationally recognised government to power.

Jason Straziuso, a Geneva-based spokesman for the ICRC, characterised the meeting as an opportunity to "reduce the humanitarian suffering associated with this conflict".

"If more detainees are released, it will be welcome news for families that can be re-united with loved ones," he said.

Majed Fadail, Yemen's deputy minister for human rights and a member of the government delegation, said the talks would last for 11 days, the government-run SABA news agency reported.

He said they were eager to release all war prisoners to help achieve a "lasting and comprehensive peace" in Yemen.

Abdul-Qader el-Murtaza, the head of the Houthi delegation, said they hoped that this round of talks proves "decisive".

The talks are a follow-up to a 2018 agreement that demanded that both parties release all those detained in relation to the conflict "without any exceptions or conditions".

The Detainees' Exchange Agreement was part of a wider UN-brokered deal that ended months of fighting over the crucial Red Sea city of Hodeida four years ago.

Since then, the two parties have released many prisoners with a major exchange taking place in October 2020 and involving more than 1000 detainees from both sides.

The conflict has created one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters and has become in recent years a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Yemen talks in Switzerland began a day after Iran and Saudi Arabia announced a China-brokered deal to re-establish diplomatic ties after years of frayed ties and hostilities.